Binh Thuy Old House
Location:Can Tho, Mekong Delta, Vietnam
The owner of this ancient house is respected Mr. Duong Minh Hien, an old sentimental man, by chance, remaining in the 20th century. It is just thanks to its maintained ancientness that this house was chosen as one of recording sites for the romantic film “Lover” of producer J. Annaud.
The native homeland of the Duongs' family was originally in Nha Man, Dong Thap Province, but they moved to Binh Thuy, Cantho and installed themselves here more than 100 years ago. They are so considered as “creators of heaven and earth” in this region. By the end of 19th century, this family became quite rich. At that time, the head of family, called by contemporary people as “Mr. Ba - council member”, decided to spend his money and efforts in building a house “for nothing”, only for showing antiquities. The construction was started in 1870 on an area of approximately 8,000m². According to respected Mr. Duong, at that time, a master with the name of Ba Nghia - but people used to call him by master Lo Ban - lived in this region, who was able to make very nice houses.
It was noteworthy that he had a strange physiognomy. His height accounted only for one meter and some centimeters, while his backbone was so twisted that his silhouette looked like a “question mark”. Throughout the years, he remained half-naked wearing only black satin breeches and wound a red silk turban round his head. The master Lo Ban had two inseparable things: a marker and an axe. With this “treasure”, he completed an uncountable number of perfectly round ironwood pillars. The conditions that the council member Mr. Ba posed were quite serious – “You should make my house splendid much more than others', it is unquestionable; but the problem is to make it sure that after the house is finished, I should become richer”. The master Ba Nghia thought for a long while and said: “But, but, in my profession, if the customer makes his fortune, I'll immediately fall unlucky”. “No, no, don’t worry. I guarantee that I'll monthly provide you with 3 pecks of rice and some pieces of silver whenever you're alive”.
Nobody knew exactly how this story continued, but local people blabbed that the master Lo Ban certainly used amulet or talisman, because otherwise, the council member Mr. Ba couldn't become rich so fast. Letting aside these rumors, one must acknowledge that the master Ba Nghia was a top-ranking artisan-artist, when he was able, only with an axe, to construct a 5-compartment house with all close-fitting joints. It was said that the construction lasted for 20 years. In the house there is a coach set placed just before the altar. It is a souvenir of the respected Mr. Duong's grandfather. It is said that to make this set of ironwood chairs, a craftsman, native in southern provinces, had to carve dragon- and phoenix-shaped details as precise as in millimeters. One particularity is that while the chairs are so big and so heavy, their legs are as thin as children's wrist. Another craftsman named Dong Van Chiem, native in northern provinces, was charged of inlaying pearl vignettes. Nowadays, after more than hundred years, these vignettes are still brilliantly shining with their “five colors”. As other houses of landlords in the “region of six provinces” (Mekong Delta), the owner of this house also hired craftsmen to make a balustrade, connecting the ironwood pillars in front of the altar. In this case, however, the originality resides in the fact that the vignettes on this balustrade do not comprise any old Chinese classic references as others. Instead, all vignettes included here represent daily popular scenes of the common people: from crabs, chickens till ivory bamboo branch or clump of trees. Is it true that the craftsmen’s inspiration was to glorify the peaceful atmosphere at that time dominating rural areas in the southern provinces?
According to the respected Mr. Duong's stories, his grandfather was named Duong Chan Ky, whose souvenir is a portrayed picture, now solemnly hanging just in the middle room. An originality of the picture is that it was made in enameled terra-cotta with details as veritable as that of present photographs. It is said that such a technique of making pictures was known only in France and China since the end of the 18th century. However, the writing in Chinese on the picture confused me, whether the craftsmen from Ben Nghe knew this technique. If it is true, the issue needs to be more studied. The picture has experienced so many events; there was a time when it was buried into mud to avoid bombing, but did not suffer from any harm. This family still keeps numerous cups, bowls, plates; all of which have a noble origin. The oldest objects are a bowl from the Ming Dynasty in China with an age of 572 years and a big flower-vase with an age of nearly 533 years.